technocculteWhile I couldn’t attend the larpwriter summer school (which looks awesome, if only for the mixing desk of larp), I did write a larp this summer, and learned or re-learned many things in the process.



As its name suggests, Technocculte deals both with technology and with the occult. It borrows from the techno-thriller and horror movie genres, but its main inspiration is the Monster Hearts larp series run by Le Pacte des Lapins. This talented couple of Swiss organizers wrote several horror games, and their combination of Cthulhu-style investigation, Latin clues, zombie fun and references to the Holy Lance left a lasting impression on many local larpers.  The first Monster Hearts tribute larp was organized by Schnappi in 2009 and Technocculte is my very own thank you to the Pacte. The second main driver was to test techniques and technologies I had been gathering for years and never got to try in a larp due to not organizing enough games for fear of large logistics. I followed the guidance from ElectroGN’s Baptiste and Vincent who organize small games in order to “empty the idea box”. The third driver was to use this larp as the opening event of a week-long gaming vacation with friends. Thus it was written for 4 players and 1 organizer, with minimal costuming and the game site was an old house in the French countryside, which was to be explored with flashlights.


Theory into practice

Larp techniques came from my own player experiences at previous horror games and notes taken during larp conventions. The basics were very personal: I usually get scared for two reasons in horror larp, when something jumps at me from nowhere and when I am alone in the dark. It is indeed very hard to be scared when in a large group of people well-equipped with flashlights. Considering the site’s size (various buildings on several levels), splitting a 4-person group was feasible. I originally wanted them to not have lights at all but complete darkness was not very practical with the competing goal of having some very visual clues. I took a couple ideas from Johanna Koljonen’ talk at Solmukohta 2012 on how to trigger unease but the main Nordic inspirations were :

  • to have a short game, as larps don’t need to last long to be intense (Technocculte can be run in 1h)
  • not creating a combat system with wounds or hit points but rather using “pain hurts, death kills”, slow-mo fight rules as fighting is not the point of the game anyway.

Both seems to have worked really well, and it confirms that players with traditional roleplaying styles can be trusted and enjoy themselves in non-traditional larp environments if they are open-minded and properly briefed. But the main inspiration was ToNToN CoPT’s series of FX talks at the GNiales.



Attending these talks always made me think “I really need to try this”, and I finally did. I can’t really go into details to avoid spoiling future players, but let’s say half of his latest GNiales workshop ended up in Technocculte one way or another. I am less graphically gifted than him so had to simplify displays a bit, and was even more limited than in the workshops as I knew there would be no internet connection on site. Even a 3G key was no guarantee for access and I suck at setting up a local wifi network, so everything had to work locally. After a lot of work over several weeks it did eventually, and during this time Murphy’s Law was in full effect. Some of the free services I needed were going offline, some of the software that could replace them was not free and had strict trial conditions so to my horror I did end up writing a few lines of code. When I finally fixed the methods and was ready to actually create the game elements, my internet connection broke down. Making clues outdoors at the closest free wifi hotspot was an interesting experience. The kicker was when I forgot my phone, which contained some game elements, at a party the last week-end before the game. It worked out eventually but I was completely drained by the time we moved to the vacation spot.


Time management

Of course during that time work at my real job was very busy with people wanting to get things done before their summer break. I was already traumatized last year by a failed attempt at crafting props for my Conquest of Mythodea character and swore I would never subject myself to 18-hour days again. But I did just the same this year, except the extra 6 hours of work were for organizing purposes, meaning dropping the whole thing was not an option. And except this time it did not fail. I do need to plan better and start writing and crafting in the winter season so that I can enjoy summer activities in the city better. Also, fixing technology problems took so much time there was very little time left for plot writing. This was more of an experience-driven larp so it was not a major issue, but putting your ideas to paper always takes more time than expected, especially when you need to do everything on your own. The novel or script writing software Scrivener really helped there. It’s nothing revolutionary but perfectly matches my workflow: a main document for the main plot, seperate character sheets and all my research easily accessible in one single software window. It even has that “FocusWriter” distraction-free text editor for when I need to stop said research and just type. And I did need to type, as even having only four characters still means writing a minimum amount of plot.  With such a small number of players, you can’t really count on large group dynamics to create interactions, and to make things worse the Technocculte characters don’t know each other when game starts. So as an additional procrastinator badge, I learned this year that it is possible to code computer clues and write character sheets in the backseat of a car driven by your players, print them at the first stop to pick the other players and finalize clues in a bedroom minutes before game on.


Making larp videos is still tough

A fantastic asset of technology is that it can do things automatically without needing an organizer’s presence. Another one is that I could observe the players through a babycam, and listen in on their walkie-talkie conversations at all times, and that was awesome. Furthermore, the complete absence of soundproofing in the house and the location of my organizer room worked so well together that even though I was alone, I could experience more of the game than I often did in larger larps. I filmed the babycam screen and recorded the walkie-talkies with my digital camera to keep some memories, and while the footage is not great it did enable me to edit the following trailer.


So, did it work?

I think it did. There were some technical glitches (I tried nearly all gadgets on site before the game, but of course the one thing I didn’t try had some weird effects) but nothing major and nothing that blocked the game. Separation of players was not perfect, as for several reasons Technocculte is a pretty collaborative game, but I did hear some stress when people had to be alone in the dark for a short time. I guess both the game itself, players’ fears and their natural gaming tendency to be an “adventuring party” made them cling with each other. While I couldn’t be there for all of them, players did have their “wow!” and “eeew!” moments. In today’s age of special effects and materialism, making a 30-something’s eyes widen like a child’s was totally worth all the last minute work and stress.


Next runs

The next sessions of Technocculte will be run in Switzerland, in other locations and hopefully with the people the game is supposed to pay tribute to. I’ll implement some of the player feedback, including more writing, and even more player independence from the organizer. Some players even volunteered to NPC so this could add an interesting dimension and replace some props with more living things. Yay growing organisms!

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5 Responses to Technocculte: Lessons learned in larpwriting

  1. […] Thomas B.French post-geek / Fils caché d'Agnès et Benny Technocculte: Lessons learned in larpwriting […]

  2. Baptiste says:

    If you want to do it in paris, i can help !

  3. Thomas B. says:

    It’s work but doable, the creepier the place the better. And I need to test whether the electronics work there.

  4. […] the past two days I ran five sessions of Technocculte, split over two nights (for more on this <2h, 4-player game, click here). Some things were great, some not-so-great, so I’ll start with the «could have been […]

  5. […] tour in Irak. It also gave me a forum to brag about my 2012-2013 games Technocculte (reflections here, here and here) and La croisière s’accuse (pics and stuff in French, but for more in English […]

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